All Or Nothing by James Dixon

March 26, 2019

According to writer James Dixon, All or Nothing was originally conceived as an unofficial sequel to Simon Garfield’s 1995 book The Wrestling, updating readers on developments in the British scene since that time. Tales of the 1PW group proved so compelling that Dixon decided to first make the promotion the basis of an entire chapter and eventually took it on as the subject of a full-length book.

In an openly admitted homage to Garfield’s book, All or Nothing is made up entirely of first hand accounts by those involved in the promotion, with Dixon himself writing only to fill in context. It’s skilfully assembled, with the various interview sections carefully cut together to keep a constant flow while highlighting the contrasting claims of the main players without explicitly labelling anyone as truthful or dishonest.

The resulting story is an epic tale that becomes a clear pattern when the reader completes the book. In short: wrestling merchandise store owner Stephen Gauntley attracts regular large crowds to the 2,000-seat Doncaster Dome with heavy use of imported US talent only to eventually claim near-bankruptcy as the cash runs out; a string of successors, comebacks, alliances and conflicts winds up with two further promotional teams losing at least £15,000 apiece and a final show with Kevin Nash main-eventing before 200 fans in a Welsh leisure centre.

Beyond the big picture story the book is packed with accounts of major in-ring highlights interspersed with some truly amazing backstage shenanigans, from the Sandman directing traffic using his genitals, to a main eventer outraged at being paid in pound coins, to Abyss being surprised to be wrestling in a working man’s club on a council estate, to a lengthy storyline stemming from a legitimate incident where an unpopular young grappler thought it a smart idea to “rib” Samoa Joe by bursting into his hotel room and hitting him in the face with a pillow.

The book also contains reviews of virtually every match (where footage still exists) in the promotion’s history. Sadly these are riddled with personal bias on the behalf of co-author Chris “Arnold Furious” Gilder and don’t always justify their allotted space. The format of the book, with the reviews immediately followed by comments from those involved in the matches, do illustrate the argument made by Lance Storm that while fans are perfectly entitled to decide whether a match itself is good or bad, they are often clueless about the respective contributions made by individual performers.

The reviews do also highlight one notable absence from the book, namely more detail about the fan experience in following 1PW. There are occasional references to shows consistently going well past schedule, but no real look at how this played with fans who were forced to miss the end of shows to get the last train home — a major factor for a promotion relying heavily on attracting travelling spectators.

Ironically going long is also something of a weakness in the book. While readers certainly won’t be shortchanged at 300,000 words, the staggeringly comprehensive nature of the book means that for a self-published title such as this, the only option is a hefty price tag that will deter many of those in half a mind about buying.

Such a style of book likely couldn’t have been written about many promotions: those smaller and more short-lived than 1PW wouldn’t have made for such an engaging read, while any group than ran more than the 50 or so events 1PW put on would have meant the comprehensive approach on display here would have been unworkable.

In a way it’s a shame that the obvious hard work and genuine editorial skill that has gone into this project will have an inherently limited audience. That said, anyone who has enough interest in the subject to pay the asking price will likely not regret their purchase. Indeed, those considering getting into the wrestling promotion business may find it the most valuable money they ever spend.

(This review originally appeared in Fighting Spirit Magazine.)

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